MARTINO STEPS UP AT THE GATORNATIONALS Gainesville, Fla., March 15, 1998 - Following a six-day delay due to inclement weather, the NHRA returned to Gainesville Raceway for the completion of this year's Mac Tools Gatornationals. The rain, gray...
MARTINO STEPS UP AT THE GATORNATIONALS
Gainesville, Fla., March 15, 1998 - Following a six-day delay due to inclement weather, the NHRA returned to Gainesville Raceway for the completion of this year's Mac Tools Gatornationals. The rain, gray clouds and high humidity of the previous weekend were replaced by clear blue skies and cool temperatures, ideal for a weekend of record speeds. In their best showing of this short season, Tom Martino and the Six Flags Theme Parks Racing team qualified higher than in the first two races, established new personal bests in elapsed time and top speed, and gained a first-round victory. This set the stage for a second-round meeting with defending Pro Stock champion Jim Yates, who had established a new national elapsed time record in winning his first-round matchup. True to form, Martino was able to get the jump at the start, putting his Thrill Machine Firebird ahead by almost five hundredths of a second. But a transmission failure slowed Martino's purple and yellow mount, allowing Yates to drive by for the win.
We had been battling a starting-line wheel-spin all weekend, so we replaced the transmission in our Six Flags Firebird between rounds to get a better launch," explained Martino. "But car didn't like it, and then it broke fourth gear. I'd like to have that race back. Even so, we're excited by the performance of our Thrill Machine here. We ran our best times, qualified better, and won a round. We'll take it, and build on it next week in Houston!"
Prior to the rainout, Martino's 6.979-second elapsed time had placed him ninth on the provisional grid. With the improved conditions, however, the Six Flags team knew an improvement would be required to stay in the field. They gambled with a different set-up for the morning session, hoping to hit on the perfect combination and record a fast time. However, hampered by a suspect right lane, the massive rear slicks lost traction and Martino fought to keep his car on the track, coming perilously close to the wall. Facing the familiar challenge of one session to qualify for what had now become the fastest Pro Stock field in NHRA history, the Martino crew worked feverishly to revert their Firebird back to the set-up from the previous week in time for the afternoon run. They would not be disappointed, as Martino rewrote his personal record books with an elapsed time of 6.944 seconds and a top speed of 198.54 miles-per-hour, claiming the eleventh position for the final eliminations. Ironically, in Saturday's first round, the Thrill Machine pilot would duplicate this pass down to the thousandth of a second, combining it with a massive seven-hundredths of a second starting line advantage to gain the win over number six qualifier George Marnell. This moved Martino into his second-round meeting with Jim Yates.
"It's scary how fast we could be when we get all the pieces together," stated Martino. "For example, in the first round against George (Marnell), we spun the tires, ran slow in the first sixty feet and still ran a '.94. Our focus now is on what this Firebird needs to get off the starting line without spinning the tires. We've gotten this season off to solid start, but we're still going full throttle, because we're ready to put our Six Flags Thrill Machine in the winner's circle - now!"
In the final round, Warren Johnson established a new national elapsed time record in defeating Jim Yates (breaking Yates' mark from earlier in the day) for his second win of the season. The next event on the NHRA schedule is next week's Pennzoil Nationals at Houston Raceway Park, where Six Flags' own Tom Martino is the defending champion.